Implications of SOPA and PIPA Bills Are Far Reaching

The Internet is buzzing with discussions and debates about two bills -- SOPA and PIPA -- that threaten to change the Internet as we know it. Find out how these bills could affect the way you surf the Web.

This article initially appeared on HCPLive.com.

“Imagine a World Without Free Knowledge.”

This heading appears on Wikipedia’s “black out” page, which will remain active for the rest of the day. A link beneath this header leads all Internet users to the one only active Wikipedia topic of the day (for US users), which explains to users why Wikipedia is not useable for the next 24 hours.

The link is to an informational page about the two bills which could be passed into legislature called the “Stop Online Piracy Act” (SOPA) and the “Protect IP Act” (PIPA). IP, as this page explains, is short for “intellectual property,” and both bills seek to censor certain aspects of the internet, specifically those concerned with internet piracy.

The purpose of both bills is to put a halt to copyright infringement by foreign websites, particularly those known for pirated movies and music. However, the ambiguous language in both bills is cause for alarm. In essence, if these bills were to pass, Congress would have the power to shut down websites that are suspected of using inappropriate media without due process. Opponents of SOPA and PIPA--such as Google, which has opted to raise awareness by censoring their logo today--argue that the most effective way to eliminate online piracy is “through targeted legislation that cuts off their funding,” and that there’s no reason “to make American social networks, blogs and search engines censor the Internet or undermine the existing laws that have enabled the Web to thrive, creating millions of U.S. jobs.”

PROTECT IP / SOPA Breaks The Internet from Fight for the Future on Vimeo.

Perhaps just as alarming as the ramifications that these bills represent if passed is the lack of proper media coverage. Media Matters provided data from a study that was released on January 5th, stating that, up to that point, “most major television news outlets -- MSNBC, Fox News, ABC, CBS, and NBC -- have ignored the bill during their evening broadcasts,” and that only “one network, CNN, devoted a single evening segment to it.” Further along in the article, Media Matters also informs us that “ABC and CBS are listed as supporters of the bill on the House Judiciary Committee website, along with Comcast/NBCUniversal (which owns MSNBC and NBC News), Viacom (CBS), News Corporation (Fox News), and Time Warner (CNN). Disney Publishing Worldwide, a subsidiary of the Walt Disney Corporation, which owns ABC, is also listed as a supporter, as are other Disney properties such as ESPN and Hyperion publishing.” So their lack of coverage on the issue, while irresponsible, is not terribly surprising.

One website, Govtrack.us, allows users to track the legislative progress of the bills. The SOPA tracking page quotes the bill’s definitive purpose to be promoting “prosperity, creativity, entrepreneurship, and innovation by combating the theft of U.S. property, and for other purposes,” while the PIPA tracking page quotes PIPA’s purpose, specifically defining it as a bill “to prevent online threats to economic creativity and theft of intellectual property, and for other purposes.”

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